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Game

Google is testing a way to start streaming games from search results

One thing that will help bolster adoption of cloud gaming is by making it as easy as possible to fire up a game. To that end, is testing a way to start playing something with a single click from results, even if it’s not on the company’s own platform.

The test, which was by Bryant Chappel of The Nerf Report, not only enables folks to directly launch a game on Stadia, but it works with , and as well. If you’re enrolled in the test and search for a game on one of those platforms (such as or ), you may see a Play button in the information panel. Clicking that will either start up the game or take you to a landing page on the respective streaming platform.

and saw the feature in action too. The latter noted the search results can show if a game has a timed trial on Stadia or if it’s available for free or as part of a premium subscription.

It’s not incredibly surprising to see Google testing out such functionality. For several years, it has shown folks where they can . For instance, if you have a Netflix subscription and search for Stranger Things on Google, you’ll be able to start watching the show with a single click. 

In hindsight, it’s a little odd that Google hasn’t offered this feature for Stadia from the jump in order to promote its cloud gaming service. On the other hand, Stadia’s store didn’t have a search function for a year and a half, which offered further evidence that the platform isn’t exactly one of Google’s highest priorities. However, Stadia is not shutting down and Google is slowly adding more features to it.

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Game

Microsoft is testing a family plan for Xbox Game Pass

, Microsoft is starting to test an Game Pass Ultimate family plan in the wild. Xbox Insiders in Colombia and Ireland can try out the new offering, which allows them to to their plan, as long as they’re in the same country. Those folks will get access to all the benefits of Game Pass Ultimate, including a library of hundreds of titles for console, PC and cloud gaming.

If you’re in either country, you can buy the Xbox Game Pass – Insider Preview plan from the Microsoft Store, though enrolment is limited. If you’re already a Game Pass member, the time remaining on your subscription will be converted based on its monetary value. A month of Game Pass Ultimate is worth 18 days of the family plan. Parsing things out, that suggests the family plan would cost around $25 per month if Microsoft brings it to the US, or $5 per person.

You’ll need to wait for your membership to expire before moving to a different plan. People you want to invite onto a family plan will also need to cancel an existing Game Pass subscription or wait for it to run out. Alternatively, they can just create a new Microsoft account. It’s worth noting that folks with an plan aren’t eligible.

A family plan seems to make a lot of sense for Microsoft, which has positioned Game Pass at the heart of the Xbox business. This should help the company boost the service’s overall number of users, though it may come at the cost of losing some subscriptions in households with multiple Game Pass memberships or among groups of friends who split the price of a single plan.

Elsewhere, Nintendo has long offered a Switch Online family plan for both the standard and . Although Sony recently , it does not yet offer any multi-person plans.

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Game

TikTok is testing more mini-games, including one from Aim Lab

TikTok is conducting a broader test of games in its all-conquering app. The company recently added a way for creators in some markets (including the US) to append one of nine mini-games to a video by tapping the Add Link button and choosing the MiniGame option. When viewers come across a video that links to a game, they can start playing it by tapping a link next to the creator’s username.

“Currently, we’re exploring bringing HTML5 games to TikTok through integrations with third-party game developers and studios,” a TikTok spokesperson told TechCrunch. One of the games is from Aim Lab, the maker of a popular aim training app of the same name. Its TikTok game is called Mr. Aim Lab’s Nightmare. TikTok’s other partners on the initiative include developers Voodoo, Nitro Games, FRVR and Lotum.

None of the games have ads or in-app purchases at the minute and the project is in the early stages of testing. TikTok is looking to find out how (or if) creators craft content around them, and how users interact with the games. As The Verge notes, users can record their gameplay and share it in a fresh video.

Reports in recent months suggested TikTok was readying for a major push into gaming. Parent company ByteDance bought game developer Moonton Technology last year. TikTok teamed up with Zynga for an exclusive mobile game called Disco Loco 3D; a charity game called Garden of Good, through which players can trigger donations to Feeding America, became available on the US version of TikTok in June. TikTok previously tested HTML5 games in Vietnam.

Other major tech companies have made a push into mobile gaming, including Apple, Google and, more recently, Netflix. Zynga, of course, became a social gaming giant with the help of Facebook’s massive reach, while Facebook moved into cloud gaming in 2020. It’s no secret that Meta is trying to ape many of TikTok’s features across its apps, so it’s interesting to see TikTok taking a leaf out of Facebook’s playbook on the gaming front.

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Game

Arma Reforger is a stopgap testing ground for Arma 4

Bohemia Interactive revealed the future of the Arma franchise today. Powered by the new Enfusion Engine, the Czech developer has started work on Arma 4, the next mainline title in the series. That isn’t the next Arma title releasing, though, as Bohemia Interactive also announced and launched Arma Reforger into early access on PC and Xbox Series X today.

Arma Reforger is a military sim set in a reimagined version of 1980s Everon, a fictional country from Arma: Cold War Assault based on Czechoslovakia. It’s surprising that Bohemia Interactive isn’t diving right into Arma 4 as its next release. Still, it’s clear the studio wants to show Arma players and modders just what Bohemia Interactive’s new Enfusion Engine can do as soon as possible.

Bohemia CEO Marek Spanel gave some insight into why that’s the case during a presentation I attended. “Arma Reforger offers our community the opportunity to test our approach, the gameplay, and the operation of our infrastructure, while also being able to shape the future development of the Enfusion technology and of Arma 4,” he explained.


While this might not be the grand follow-up to Arma 3 that series fans may have expected, my early hands-off look at Arma Reforger shows that a promising new era for the franchise is about to begin. And with Arma Reforger, Bohemia Interactive wants its modding community and Xbox players to come along for the ride.

Reimagining Arma

Arma Reforger is a pseudo-reimagining of the first Arma game, although it’s primarily focused on multiplayer and user-created content. Arma Reforger’s two primary modes at launch are Conflict and Game Master. Conflict is a PvP mode where two teams deploy onto Everon as Americans and Soviets and fight each other and build bases to defeat the enemy.

Conflict is the straightforward military sim part of the package and what casual console players should check out first if they’re unfamiliar with Arma. That said, the series has always been just as much about the community creations as the game itself. Without Arma and its community, we would’ve never had games like the highly influential DayZ. For players looking to create, Game Master is the mode to try.

In Game Master, players can create modes and experiences within Arma Reforger. It should get players acquainted with making content on this new engine, even on Xbox. After that, hardcore modders with programming knowledge can dive into the Enfusion Engine and create modded content for Arma Reforger via Enfusion’s Workbench development tools.

While PC players are the only ones that can make mods on the Enfusion Enginr, Bohemia plans to help players bring the best mods to Xbox. By releasing Arma Reforger, the studio can ensure its community of modders are familiar with the Enufsion Engine ahead of Arma 4.

“We are building a new ecosystem on a completely different game, so for our users, it will take some to accommodate to it,” Spanel said. “We really need users to be using it because it’s extremely complex. It’s magnitudes more complex than Arma. It’s not just the new engine; it’s also new tools and online system.”

Forging early access

Arma Reforger might seem light on content to players not as interested in making modes or mods, but Spaniel made it clear that this limited scope is intentional. “At this point, our aim is more towards the fidelity, so we do not try to overcome the scale and scope of Arma 3,” Spanel explained. “Arma Reforger is smaller in scope.”

Spanel also said this would be reflected in the amount of post-launch support the game gets. It will get some new updates over the next 12 months, such as the addition of helicopters, but it won’t have the long-term tail that Arma 3 had.

Hummers with mounted guns drive through a field in Arma 4.

“We have a quite different plan for Arma Reforger, and our plan is not to make it another DayZ or Arma 3 in terms of growing the game,” Spaniel revealed. “We do have some features and new assets we plan to add, but mostly we want to focus on the core of the platform and its robustness, performance, and stability throughout early access.”

Bohemia Interactive plans to keep the game in early access and support it for one year, but will leave the game alone after that as it moves on to Arma 4.

Before Arma 4

Right now, Bohemia Interactive isn’t sharing a timeline for when it’ll reveal more about or launch Arma 4, but Spanel made it very clear that Reforger is the best proof-of-concept for Arma 4 that players can find.

“For Arma 4, we’re targeting the same scale and scope as Arma 3, but we want to do it with better fidelity in all aspects of the simulation,” he teased. “On top of the same technology and platform [as Reforger], we are already creating data for Arma 4, and these titles are very closely connected.”

The transition from Reforger to Arma 4, especially for user content, will be much easier.

Those statements highlight just what Arma Reforger is — a stopgap Arma release that will help Bohemia Interactive and its fans test the new Enfusion Engine while Arma 4 is in the early stages of development. We’ve seen some developers try out a new engine with smaller games before, like Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue or The Matrix Awakens.

Still, we’ve never really seen this happen with a game where community content creation is critically important. Both hardcore Arma fans and players on new platforms like Xbox should be intrigued by what Arma Reforger offers. It’s the start of a new era for the franchise, and Reforger’s existence will help ensure that Bohemia Interactive gets Arma 4 right.


Arma 4 is going to be a completely new release, but will still rely on the same technology bases, Spanel explained. “The transition from Reforger to Arma 4, especially for user content, will be much easier.”

Arma Reforger is available now for PC and Xbox Series X/S.

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AI

Mabl aims to automate software testing, nabs $40M

Join gaming leaders, alongside GamesBeat and Facebook Gaming, for their 2nd Annual GamesBeat & Facebook Gaming Summit | GamesBeat: Into the Metaverse 2 this upcoming January 25-27, 2022. Learn more about the event. 


In the enterprise, the pandemic brought about sharp increases in software release cadences and automation. That’s thanks in part to the adoption of low-code development platforms, which abstract away the programming traditionally required to build apps and software. Respondents to a 2021 Statista survey report that low-code tools have enabled them to release apps 40% to 60% faster, while a full 60% of developers tell GitLab that they’re committing code two times faster and bringing higher-impact technologies into their processes.

However, the accelerated pace of development has introduced new blockers, like a backlog of testing and code reviews. GitLab reports that only 45% of developers review code weekly, with 22% opting to do it every other week instead. It’s not that the pace of innovation in software testing is slowing — it isn’t — but that aspects like installation, maintenance, security, and incompatible problems remain hurdles.

The urgency of the challenge — insufficient testing can lead to security vulnerabilities — has put a spotlight on startups like Mabl, which today announced that it raised $40 million in a series C investment led by Vista Equity Partners. Founded in 2017 by Dan Belcher and Izzy Azeri, Mabl is among a crop of newer companies developing platforms that enable software teams to create, run, manage, and automate software and API tests.

“Despite the fact that the testing category is massive, no software-as-a-service leader had emerged in the space [prior to Mabl] … This void left enterprises to choose between legacy testing solutions that were incredibly complex and expensive and self-managed open source frameworks coupled with bespoke infrastructure that were inaccessible to quality assurance professionals,” Belcher told VentureBeat via email. “Mabl envisioned and delivered an end-to-end testing solution for the enterprise that would combine a low-code framework, a software-as-a-service delivery model, deep integration with enterprise environments and workflows, data analytics, and machine intelligence to disrupt the testing industry.”

Automating testing at scale

Belcher and Azeri are second-time founders, having previously launched Stackdriver, a service that provides performance and diagnostics data to public cloud users. Stackdriver was acquired by Google in 2014 for an undisclosed sum, and recently became a part of Google Cloud’s operations suite.

With Mabl, Belcher and Azeri set out to build a product that lets developers orchestrate browser, API, and mobile and web app tests from a single location. Mabl’s low-code dashboard is designed to automate end-to-end tests locally or in the cloud, running tests with different permutations of data to strengthen individual test cases.

“Lack of effective test automation is a major problem in the software industry, because ineffective testing leads to dramatically lower team productivity due to rework, overhead, and a general bottleneck in throughput, as quality engineering cannot execute with the same velocity as development and operations. Likewise, ineffective testing leads to poor product quality — from not only a functional perspective but also in terms of user experience, performance, accessibility, and more,” Belcher added. “Low-code is critical because it democratizes testing — making it accessible to quality engineers, manual testers, developers, product owners, and others — rather than limiting efforts to a quality engineer or dev.”

Mabl

Above: Mabl’s automated testing orchestration dashboard.

Image Credit: Mabl

Mabl can generate tests from the contents of emails and PDFs, adapting as the tested app’s UI evolves with development. An AI-driven screenshot comparison feature attempts to mimic real-life visual UI testing to help spot unwanted changes to the UI, while a link-crawling capability autonomously generates tests that cover reachable paths within the app — giving insight into broken links.

“There are a number of areas where we use machine intelligence to benefit customers. In particular … Mabl automatically trains and updates structural and performance models of page elements, and incorporates these models into the timing and logic of test execution,” Belcher explained. “Mabl [also leverages] visual anomaly detection that uses visual models to differentiate between expected changes resulting from dynamic data and dynamic elements from unexpected changes and defects.”

Mabl allows customers to update and debug tests without affecting master versions. API endpoints can be used to trigger Mabl tests, as well as plugins for CI/CD platforms including GitHub, Bitbucket Pipelines, and Azure Pipelines. On the analytics side, Mabl shows metrics quantifying how well tests cover an app, identifying gaps based on statistics and interactive elements on a page.

Growing trend

Mabl’s users include dev teams at Charles Schwab, ADP, Stack Overflow, and JetBlue, and the Boston, Massachusetts-based company expects to more than double its recurring revenue this year. But the company faces competition from Virtuoso, ProdPerfect, Testim, Functionize, Mesmer, and Sauce Labs, among others. Markets and Markets predicts that the global automation testing market size will grow in size from $12.6 billion in 2019 to $28.8 billion by 2024.

Automated tests aren’t a silver bullet. In a blog post, Amir Ghahrai, lead test consultant at Amido, lays out a few of the common issues that can come up, like wrong expectations of automated tests and automating tests at the wrong layer of the app stack.

Mabl

Still, a growing number of companies are adopting automated testing tools — especially in light of high-profile ransomware and software supply chain attacks. According to a LogiGear survey, at least 38% of developers have at least tried test automation — even if it failed in its first implementation. Another source estimates that 44% of IT companies automated 50% or more of all testing in 2020.

“Mabl has over 200 customers globally, which includes 10 of the Fortune 500 and 32 of the Fortune Global 2000 companies. We have active, paid users in over 60 countries,” Belcher said. “The Mabl community in Japan has more than doubled in the past six months — reaching nearly 1,500 members. The Japanese customer base has increased by 322% and revenue has increased by over 300% in the past year, now representing 10% of the company’s total global revenue.”

Existing investors Amplify Partners, Google Ventures, Presidio Capital, and CRV also participated in 55-employee Mabl’s round. It brings the startup’s total capital raised to over $77 million.

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AI

Google testing Duplex feature that adds names to restaurant waitlists

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Google appears to be testing a new feature that allows users to add themselves and their parties to waitlists at restaurants that would normally require a phone call. Powered by Duplex, Google’s AI-driven natural language processing technology that can converse with business owners over the phone, the waitlist capability could benefit hospitality organizations facing surges in traffic as pandemic fears abate.

People in the U.S. are returning to restaurants as the coronavirus appears to wane, leading to overcrowded dining rooms. Complicating matters, even before the pandemic restaurants struggled to juggle phone-based waitlists, not uncommonly leading to inaccurate wait times and long lines. One survey found that 72% of diners make reservations over the phone, eschewing online, in-person, or mobile app options.

On the other hand, businesses sometimes confuse Duplex with automated spam robocalls, The Verge has found. And an influx of Duplex calls about waitlist status could threaten to overwhelm restaurants with limited staff.

Google Duplex restaurant waitlist

A solution might lie in Google Assistant’s new waitlist option, which showed up yesterday on this reporter’s OnePlus Nord N10 5G for restaurants in Google Maps and Google Search. Appearing as a “Request to Join Waitlist” button under listings in Maps and Search, it asks a user to specify their party size and maximum wait time (e.g., over 30 minutes, under 30 minutes) “in case the restaurant has a waitlist.” Pulling info saved to the user’s Google Account, including their name and phone number, Google Assistant (i.e., Duplex) attempts to call the restaurant to add their party to the waitlist.

Google Duplex restaurant waitlist

Google Assistant provides text updates as it places the call, indicating whether it’s been successful or not. After we had waited about 30 minutes, Google Assistant reported that it had failed to secure a spot at Opus, a bistro in Salem, Massachusetts. A follow-up visit to the restaurant revealed that tables weren’t available because the kitchen had closed earlier in the evening.

Google Duplex restaurant waitlist

When contacted for comment, a Google spokesperson told VentureBeat via email that they had “nothing more to share” at this time. “[W]e’re constantly experimenting with new features that use Duplex technology and do not have a timeline on when [or] if this specific capability will be available to the broader Google Assistant users [or restaurants],” the spokesperson said.

Duplex expanding

Google received a ton of blowback after its initial Duplex demo in 2018, as many were not amused by how well it could mimic a human. As of October 2020, 99% of Duplex calls are fully automated, according to Google, with the rest being handled by human operators.

Part of the reason Duplex sounds so natural is that it taps Google’s sophisticated WaveNet audio processing neural network and intelligently inserts “speech disfluencies” — the “ums” and “ahs” people make involuntarily in the course of a conversation. In June 2018, Google promised Duplex would first introduce itself.

Indeed, Duplex makes it clear the call is automated — and it doesn’t call late at night or early in the morning. In all countries where it has launched, Duplex informs the person on the other end that they’re being recorded, and in some cases it provides a callback number. The call is handed off to a human operator on an unrecorded line if business owners respond with “I don’t want to be recorded” or some variation of the phrase.

According to Google, operators annotate the call transcripts used to train Duplex’s algorithms.

In light of the pandemic, the focus of Duplex’s development had pivoted from bookings to store hours and inventory check-ins, as well as expansion beyond the U.S. to Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, India, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, and the U.K., with languages including Spanish and Hindi. But in October, Google rolled out Duplex’s availability to call barbershops, hairstylists, and salons to reserve appointments on a user’s behalf. The company more recently brought Duplex support to Nest smart displays, allowing owners to book a table at restaurants via Google Assistant.

Duplex — and its underlying technology — has also expanded to the web in recent years, automating tasks like purchasing tickets, checking into flights, and ordering food. Google most recently announced assisted checkout for retail, which clicks through guest checkout flows and auto-populates a user’s payment information on supported ecommerce sites.

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Copado acquires Qentinel to bring multicloud software testing to DevOps

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Copado, a developer operations (DevOps) company initially built for the Salesforce ecosystem, has announced plans to acquire AI-powered software testing platform Qentinel. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The software testing market was estimated to be worth $45.6 billion last year, a figure that’s expected to more than double within six years. With every company now effectively a software company, and the cloud taking center stage, businesses across every sector need the tools to help them develop and ship bug-free software at speed. This is why we’ve seen a flurry of activity across the software testing space of late, with BrowserStack and LambdaTest raising $200 million and $16 million, respectively in the past few weeks alone.

Founded in 2013, Copado serves enterprises with an integrated Salesforce-native platform spanning the whole DevOps process, including agile planning, continuous delivery, automated testing, and compliance. More recently, the company has expanded its support to additional clouds and platforms outside of Salesforce, such as Veeva, Heroku, and MuleSoft.

Finnish company Qentinel provides automated software testing tools for major enterprises such as Kone and Thyssenkrupp that work across major cloud platforms including Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft.

This is a big deal for Copado, as it signals the company’s intentions to continue its transition beyond the Salesforce ecosystem for which it is better known.

“Bringing Qentinel into Copado DevOps allows us to ensure continuous quality when building and deploying in multicloud environments,” Copado CEO Ted Elliott said in a statement.

The Qentinel acquisition, expected to close in the next month, follows shortly after Copado raised $96 million in funding and acquired multicloud developer security operations (DevSecOps) startup New Context.

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Tech News

Cross your fingers, Instagram is widely testing desktop uploads

Since its inception, Instagram has been a mobile-first app. While it has a website where you can look at your feed, watch Stories, and chat with your friends over DMs, you can’t post photos.

Well, that’s about to change as the company is rolling out a desktop upload feature to select users. Multiple people on Twitter noted that they’re seeing this function appear for them on Instagram‘s desktop site.

[Read: Why entrepreneurship in emerging markets matters]

Last month, developer and leaker Alessandro Paluzzi tweeted about this feature being tested internally. However, Instagram has now confirmed this development:

We know that many people access Instagram from their computers. To improve that experience, we’re now testing the ability to create a Feed post on Instagram with their desktop browser.

From the looks of these early screenshots, you can upload multiple photos, edit them, and apply filters to them without having to switch to the mobile app. At the time of writing, I haven’t seen this feature for my account, so I haven’t been able to test it. We’ll update this story when it rolls out more widely.

Back in 2013, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom said, “We do not offer the ability to upload from the web as Instagram is about producing photos on the go, in the real world, in real-time.”

Anyone who’s spent time on the platform over the years knows this is not how most creators use Instagram lately: they edit a lot of content using professional tools on their desktops before beaming it to their phones to upload.

As such, this new development should be a boon to those folks. If you’re looking for authenticity in your feed, you’ll want to check out alternatives like Dispo.

Can we have Instagram for iPad now, please?

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Tech News

Amazon changes its policy on drug testing US workers for marijuana

Amazon says that with only certain exceptions, it will now treat marijuana use the same as alcohol and will stop testing its employees for the substance as part of its drug testing policy. This change will apply to workers in the US in light of ‘where state laws are moving,’ according to Amazon, which says the change won’t apply to workers in positions regulated by the Transportation Department.

Amazon announced some changes directed at its US employees on Tuesday, stating that it will make some adjustments to its Time off Task policy, namely that it will average it over a longer time period to get back to the spirit of the program. The company made these announcements with its goal of being “Earth’s best employer” and “Earth’s safest place to work.”

According to the company, its Time off Task policy was primarily made with the goal of determining whether there’s an issue with the tools employees use, stating that identifying underperforming workers is its ‘secondary’ purpose.

The change follows criticism that included allegations from workers who claimed the Time off Task policy has resulted in things like skipping bathroom breaks or avoiding first aid over worries about being disciplined for staying off task too long. Amazon was recently back in the news cycle over claims that some employees have resorted to using pee bottles.

As well, Amazon says it is revising its drug testing policy for most US workers, saying in a recent blog post:

We will no longer include marijuana in our comprehensive drug screening program for any positions not regulated by the Department of Transportation, and will instead treat it the same as alcohol use.

The company notes that it will perform impairment checks during the job, however, and that both marijuana and alcohol will be tested for following any incidents. It is unclear how the company plans to determine whether a worker who consumes cannabis was impaired on the job, however — marijuana notoriously stays in one’s system far beyond the duration of its psychoactive effects, meaning someone can test positive for the drug without any impairment.

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Game

Microsoft Starts Testing Dolby Vision on Xbox Series X/S

The Xbox Series X/S will be the first consoles to support Dolby Vision gaming. The program will roll out to Xbox Insiders starting this week.

Dolby Vision is meant to give games a significant graphical boost with “full-spectrum visuals.” It offers games upgrades like brighter highlights, sharper contrast, and more vibrancy, as well as more visibility in both light and dark situations. According to Dolby, it’s an automatic process. Players do not have to adjust brightness sliders to tweak their screen. Instead, the best picture will always display by default.

The program will begin testing on Xbox Series X/S this week via the Xbox Insider Alpha ring. Dolby plans to collect feedback during the trial in preparation for a full release, which it says is “coming soon.” Xbox will be the first console to support both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.

Get ready to transform your gaming experience with full-spectrum visuals! Rolling out to Xbox Insiders this week: Dolby Vision for gaming on Xbox Series X|S. pic.twitter.com/iU2RktHvPG

— Larry Hryb ????????☁ (@majornelson) May 14, 2021

Xbox Insiders will need to make sure their Dolby Vision-enabled TV is updated with the latest firmware to enable it. Dolby notes that the feature won’t be available on every TV and may require a future firmware update.

As part of the program, Xbox Series X/S will get a new enhancement that allows for more accurate HDR gaming when connected to a Dolby Vision-enabled TV. Dolby says that it and Microsoft are working closely with TV manufacturers to make sure the feature is available on as many TVs as possible by the time it rolls out widely.

It’s a big step for Microsoft, which continues to double down on the Series X’s technological capabilities. In our Xbox Series X review, we said: “It’s an insanely powerful system that, once the company’s internal teams begin to showcase its power, could wow the gaming world.”

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